Buck became my neighbor when we bought our first house. Our first house is still the only house we’ve ever bought, but Buck doesn’t live next door anymore. I’m pretty sure he would, though, if he weren’t dead.
I tried to be a good neighbor to Buck when he was still living. I learned a lot from him. Some of it had to do with cursing, which I chose never to employ. More positively, from home repairs to auto mechanics, Buck was a real do-it-yourselfer, and I picked up lots of fix-it shortcuts from him. For example, I learned that duct tape can hold various drain pipes together for years.
Still, even Buck didn’t know what to do when the Big Freeze swept over our part of the state.
I could tell there was something big going on, because Buck’s half-brother, Fred, and a couple of Buck’s lodge brothers had pulled into his driveway. I stomped through the snow and below-freezing temperature and yanked open the front door to Buck’s modest little house.
To my surprise, nobody seemed to be around. But then I heard voices coming from Buck’s modest little bathroom. Slowly I meandered over to the scene of the action. All eyes were focused on the toilet bowl.
“I’m tellin’ you, boys, this and everything else is frozen up solid!” Well, those weren’t the actual words Buck used, but we’ll call it close enough. I leaned in past the lodge brothers and saw a miniature skating rink right there in Buck’s toilet bowl.
“I was gone last night and the ‘lectricity musta been out the whole time!” Buck cried, kneeling in front of the toilet bowl. “And it’s still out! No heat, no water, no nothin’!” A tear slid down the crusty old man’s cheek, freezing in midair and hitting the floor, breaking into many tiny pieces. (OK, maybe not, but I thought a word picture might be helpful at this point.)
Fred and the lodge brothers nodded sympathetically, but no one really had a good solution—until I spoke up.
“Buck, I’ve got it! I’ll go get my electric heater!” I shouted enthusiastically. “Why, we’ll have this place warmed up in no time!”
At this point, Buck stared at me as if he could hardly believe what he’d just heard. Admittedly, it was sheer genius, but surely not to the point of leaving the man unable to speak.
“What kind of heater did you say it was?” Buck asked slowly, still clearly stunned by my brilliance.
“I said it’s an elec—” I paused midsentence, pondering whether or not it would be ethical to ask Buck, Fred, and the lodge brothers if they’d gotten my little joke. After all, they were now laughing their heads off, and my witticism would have fit in perfectly. Instead, I smiled sheepishly and agreed that it would indeed be difficult to employ my electric heater with no power anywhere within the sound of their howling.
Well, a day or so later things were flowing smoothly again for Buck, no thanks to my electric heater. I guess we all say things from time to time that make us look like we left our brain at the YMCA last time we went swimming.
God has to put up with a lot.
I still haven’t forgotten the whole sorry episode. Fred and the lodge brothers probably haven’t either. And if I didn’t know better, I’d say that howling sound coming from the direction of the cemetery wasn’t a dog at all.